The 148th Open Royal Portrush
The 148th Open
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European contenders for Claret Jug success
When Francesco Molinari lifted the Claret Jug at Carnoustie last year, few would have expected his triumph to still be the latest by a European at a major championship.

Alas, four majors have taken place in the 12 months since then and all four have been won by Americans, including back-to-back US PGA Championships for Brooks Koepka.

Tiger Woods and Gary Woodland have also tasted major success this year - at the Masters and US Open - meaning US players could complete a clean sweep of the big four at The Open.

But standing in the way are a host of Europeans who will fancy their chances of ending that streak.

And with the main event almost upon us, here’s a look at some of the European contenders who could be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year on Sunday evening.

Rahm counting on Irish charm

One of the main favourites for major glory this week will be Jon Rahm, who has developed a love affair with this part of the world ever since winning the Irish Open at Portstewart in 2017.

The mercurial Spaniard won a second Irish Open at Lahinch earlier this month and is confident he - or one of his European peers - can rise to the occasion in county Antrim this week.

“I think the talent is there, I believe it goes in waves,” he said. “There's going to be times when the Americans are going to win more and there's going to be times when the Europeans win more. 

“Three of the four majors are played in the US. If we're talking in that way, they do have certain advantage, there's also a lot more US players than European players in the higher ranking. 

“In the 80s the Europeans started a wave of European wins for a very long time. So hopefully we can replicate that and we can start it this week. Hopefully I'm the one to start it.”

On his penchant for playing in Ireland, Rahm added: “It's the closest I'll ever feel to playing at home, without being at home, really. That's what I think makes it so special.”

England’s best bid for glory

Ranked fourth in the world and a runner-up at Carnoustie last year, 2013 US Open champion and Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose is another man tipped for success this week.

Rose first came to prominence as an amateur at The Open in 1998 and after coming so close last year, the 38-year-old insists he would love to add another major win to his record. 

“I think if you won both Opens, essentially, that's a lovely pair, no doubt - that would be halfway towards a Grand Slam...” 2013 US Open champion justin rose

He is not the only Englishman expected to contend on the Dunluce Links, however, with Tommy Fleetwood another who has been getting ever closer to the ultimate prize in golf.

After missing the cut in his first three Open appearances, Fleetwood finished tied for 27th at Royal Birkdale in 2017 before improving on that last year at Carnoustie, where he finished T-12.

Justin Rose smiling rain

Meanwhile, Matt Wallace - who will play with Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed in the first two rounds - has been in excellent form in recent months and could also trouble the top of the leaderboard.

Rory revels in home Open

No one has more expectation on their shoulders this week than Northern Ireland’s very own Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner and the 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year.

The 30-year-old from Holywood has been a regular visitor to Royal Portrush since his childhood and shot a course-record of 61 as a 16-year-old at the 2005 North of Ireland Championship.

He has also finished fifth, fourth and second in the last three Opens since his triumph at Royal Liverpool - but McIlroy insists he is not feeling the pressure of being the home favourite.

"One of my sort of mantras this week is: Look around and smell the roses," he said. "This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general.

"And to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me; right? This is bigger than me.

"I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things, but at the same time just having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more."

Molinari ready for title defence

While he continues to go about his business in his usual quiet, understated manner, Francesco Molinari remains a strong contender to defend the title he won at Carnoustie.

In fact, the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year once again appears to be flying under the radar despite claiming the Claret Jug in spectacular style a year ago at The 147th Open.

The Italian may not be on the hot streak he was on before arriving in Angus, but relentless consistency is a dangerous weapon that saw off Tiger Woods’ challenge in 2018.

And having come to turns with the spotlight that has been focused on him since his memorable victory, Molinari is not about to give up the Claret Jug without a fight.

“I'm well aware of the challenges ahead. There's a lot of guys capable this week of winning the trophy and all I can do is do my best, try to put up a good defence,” he said.

“I think at our level you can play good golf on any golf course. It's much more dependent on how you play than what kind of course you're playing.”